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While you are sleeping

Ever wondered what causes dreams? Nightmares? Where are we while we are asleep?

On a purely scientific level, the picture may not be as clear as we'd like it to be, but on a philosophical/pseudo-scientific level, it is pretty well understood. I have read up on quite a lot of literature about (lucid) dreams, astral projection et al. Some are religious texts, some are theosophical, still others claim to be quasi-scientific studies.

There are many references to sleep and dreaming in ancient Hindu texts. According the Prasna Upnishad (Fourth question), while a person is asleep, all their senses "roll up into a glowing disc." This disc might be thought of as the crown chakra. However, a slightly more 'scientific' treatment is given in the Kaushitaki Upnishad (Fouth chapter, verse 19/20).
And the two together came to a person who was asleep. And Agâtasatru called him, saying: "Thou great one, clad in white raiment, Soma, King" But he remained lying. Then he pushed him with a stick, and he rose at once. Then said Agâtasatru to him: "Bâlâki, where did this person here sleep? Where was he? Whence came he thus back?" Bâlâki did not know.

And Agâtasatru said to him: "Where this person here slept, where he was, whence he thus came back, is this: The arteries of the heart called Hita extend from the heart of the person towards the surrounding body. Small as a hair divided a thousand times, they stand full of a thin fluid of various colours, white, black, yellow, red. In these the person is when sleeping he sees no dream."
Quite clearly, this refers to the fact that a person's consciousness lies in the nervous system, while a person is asleep. Confusing, is it?

Let's now look at the theosophical view. According to it, there are several "planes" of existence, much like several different radio stations on different frequencies. We live in the lowest of them all - the physical plane. Theosophy defines 4 planes:
  1. Physical
  2. Etheric
  3. Astral
  4. Mental
Every human, non-human, and inanimate object has a reflection of it in each of these planes. The physical plane is what we are most familiar with. It consists of our body and the physical organs. The etheric plane is a plane between the Astral and Physical - the "consciousness" part. Think of the body as part of the physical plane, while the "life" (emotions, heartbeat, thought, senses) are the etheric part. Etheric plane is said to be mainly electromagnetic, so it is still pseudo-physical. While we are in light sleep, our consciousness is shifted to the etheric body. It hovers a few inches above our physical.

Then we come to the Astral plane. This is supposed to be the plane where our consciousness shifts while we are in deep sleep. It is the world of the mind. Nothing is impossible here, and everything is controlled by thought. You may or may not have control of your thought process here, however. This gives rise to 1) the regular dreams we have, or 2) lucid dreams in which you are fully aware that you are dreaming and are able to influence the dream world. There are subplanes in the Astral - lower ones are horrific (nightmares) and upper ones are angelic (dreams).

Above the Astral is the mental plane, which most of us lesser mortals can forget about reaching. This plane is said to be totally abstract, with no semblance to the real or even the astral world. You see pulsating colours, moving shapes... This is the plane where deep meditators usually exist in while they meditate (and I mean deep meditators!).

For Western theosphy, the story ends here. However, looking at Oriental theosophy, there still exist at least 3 more planes -
  • Buddhic
  • Anupâdak
  • Âdi
Notice that the names of these three higher planes are in Sanskrit (with the possible exception of the Westernized "Buddhic"). It is a long established fact that ancient Hindu scholars were more conversant with philosophy and science than we today are. Let's look at each of these three planes -

Buddhic - This is the plane where Buddha meditated. It is higher than even the Mental plane. It is said to be a plane of utter one-ness, pure whiteness. In this plane, you are one with the surroundings and your surroundings are one with you. You cease to be an individual creature, and are gender-neutered. All thought and feelings cease to exist.

Anupâdak - This plane is the so-called 'heaven' or 'hell'. This is the 'base camp' of the soul after death, and before re-birth. Since Hinduism believes in life after death, it is only natural for such a plane to exist. The visions of this plane differ according to the individual's belief system - I have so far read only one person's experience (Robert Bruce).

Âdi - The ultimate plane of existence. This is where you achieve "moksha", after the cycle of births and deaths has ended. What it is like is anyone's guess. Perhaps this is the ultimate secret waiting to reveal itself after we die.

But for now, think of where you'll be when you go to bed tonight! Astral? Etheric? :-)

Edit: You read this far? Haha.. here's your reward - a quick dig at US Foreign Policy (sorry guys!).

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